Following the example of some of my colleagues this semester I have started doing pre-lecture reading quizzes for my second year undergraduate course on Thermodynamics and Condensed Matter. Here is how it works.
A reading on the subject of the lecture (usually a Section from the textbook by Schroeder) is assigned.
A brief quiz of 2-4 questions is placed on Blackboard. These can be multiple choice and/or brief essay. The aim is to "force/encourage" students to engage with the text, think about the material, and be better prepared for the lecture. Reading the quiz results before the lecture provides some useful feedback on students levels of understanding and misconceptions. The occasional question, "What don't you understand in the reading?" provides useful feedback to the lecturer who can try and address these in the actual lecture.
The marks/grades for the quiz contribute a small amount to the formative assessment. This seems to be enough to motivate the majority of students to take the quizzes. However, it seems that about 30-50% of the class don't bother. A similar fraction don't bother to come to the lecture, which is serious problem that needs to be addressed.
Overall, I think this is a successful and worthwhile exercise. It is encouraging to see some of the students really do put the effort in and you see how they are wrestling with the material. I have been encouraged by the depth of some of the questions I have gotten in lectures which I think reflect this.
Although, valuable we should be mindful of two significant costs associated with this exercise.
First, it all takes time: designing the questions, uploading them on Blackboard, downloading the responses, assigning grades, reading the responses, and figuring out how to modify the lecture.
Blackboard will mark multiple choice quizzes automatically. For the essay questions, a graduate student, Chao Feng, has written nice software that allows one to look at all the responses in a convenient format. Nevertheless, it still take time.
A minimum of several hours a week is required. To do it really effectively one may need to devote one day a week. I don't know where I or others would find the time...
Second, are we actually hurting the students. I wonder whether this is just another exercise in babysitting students and fear-driven learning. Every year we see to be giving more and more small items of assessment to motivate students to engage with the course and learn something. But, they aren't in high school anymore. Hopefully, sometime in their life they are going to grow up and learn to be responsible, independent, and quasi-disciplined adults who do things because they actually want to or at least because they realise there is some benefit from doing it...